Sunday, July 16, 2006

In Retrospect: Final Project Evaluation

I found the group project to be extremely rewarding. When it was first mentioned that we would be doing a group project and presentation, I admit it, I cringed. I have had poor experiences in the past where not everyone in the group contributes, they don't make themselves available, or the work that was promised just doesn't get done. All of my fears were put to rest almost immediately. First of all, although I'm sure I would have been satisfied with any group configuration, I was thrilled to see the members assigned to my group. At our first meeting we agreed on the focus of culture and the arts based on something from our own background. The beauty of this idea was that we were able to focus on an area of individual interest and meaning while contributing to the collaborative whole of the project. We also decided to set up individual project.html pages right away, and I offered to set up the main page for the project so that we could all link to that as the culture.html page. The visual configuration of the main page shows each individual's culture choice as a separate cell, but they are joined together to show the relationship of our group members coming together to share what we learned during our research.

Posting these pages on the Internet in a timely fashion proved to be a great decision because we were able to look at our group-mates' pages as they were developing. This virtual check in on the progress of each page was helpful in many ways. It inspired me to make my page better, reminded me of things I should include on my page, and reassured me that each person was doing their part. Technology was definitely to thank for this aspect of the project. In another group situation where technology was not involved, you would have had to wait until the next meeting of the group to see the progress. Another way in which we employed technology was that we could email each other at any time to give a comment or spelling correction to aid in making each page the best it could be. Because of the short time in which to create a web presence and complete the project, we had no choice but to come together quickly with ideas and content for our site. Every in-person meeting became a brainstorming session which went very smoothly. We met before class on several occasions to work intensely on our own part of the project, saving time to come together at the end of each session to discuss ideas about the presentation of the project. This made it possible to solve problems and assist each other in a variety of ways. We were successful in maintaining a dynamic interaction both in cyberspace and in person.

Each member had substantial input to the final product, and even came up with an additional contribution in the last 24 hours of the project: virtual teacher introduction video, embedded YouTube video, presentation content, and group interview video and photos. The technology class itself served as a lab for creating our website, as we were able to test our webpages on both PCs and Macs. Among the group members we had a variety of web browsers, so we were able to test our pages to get everything on our site to look as we intended in as many situations as possible. When presentation day arrived, we were ready to go. We started with our virtual teacher, via a QuickTime Movie, giving us our assignment, then we presented each member's contribution to the website. I am thrilled with the results of our preparation and our subsequent presentation of the material. As a celebration of the project culmination and a continuation of the process, our group went out to a Korean restaurant where we shared food and arts discussions. Thank you Andrea, Bomi, and Kanika for a delicious end to an intense project.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Dance is Language

I made a PowerPoint presentation for my Tech Resources class where I had to research how literacy is acquired through the arts. I specifically tailored my presentation to be geared towards dance, but the principles are transferrable to any art form. In one of the articles I found particularly interesting, there was mention of the concept of treating each art as a language. Dance is one of the disciplines that can aid in developing and acquiring literacy. Dance is a language, and as skills are developed in the dance framework, they translate into other literacy skills. Through the medium of physical and emotional expression, students will experience another facet of themselves and make connections with other knowledge. Developing a common language with which to discuss and create dance will allow for new experiences that will enhance literacy among students. As you acquire skills and comprehension in any language, you are also making links to literacy areas you already possess. I began to understand English grammar for the first time when I took high school French. While learning the new language, somehow I was making connections that gave me a framework for the language I spoke fluently.

Fluency is the ability to communicate in a language easily and quickly, like a native speaker of the language. So it is with dance; as you move towards fluency, you make connections to your native language, and it enhances your knowledge in both languages. I can gear my lessons around some of the grammar that is used in dance, including:
  1. Dance vocabulary: steps, movements; a descriptive way of speaking about movement
  2. Dance phrase: incorporating a number of steps or movements in a sequence
  3. Story: complete dance piece made up of many dance phrases
  4. Rules of grammar: order, how things go together, what makes sense
  5. Techniques for generating ideas: brainstorming, found movement, improvisation, inspiration from personal experiences, photos, or poems, etc.
  6. Structure: form (ie.: ABA, ABBA, ABCDEBC, etc.)
  7. Editing: objectively viewing the work, openness to appropriately given criticism, and then being able to cut, paste, delete, and rearrange as necessary
There are so many parallels with conventional language learning that it is an obvious advantage to give students many crossover language acquisition opportunities and resources. Dance, as a physical, expressive form, has the unique ability to allow the dancer to experience visually and kinesthetically. By learning how to discuss and write about observations and activities in the dance class, students will be supplementing literacy acquisition in all areas of study.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Final Countdown

The group project has been an interesting process. We have not had any clashing of ideas or personalities. (Whew!) We were able to agree on our focus of culture and the arts during our first meeting. We decided right away to make an individual project page that would link to a central group project page. I designed that main page for the group. I had an idea for a two-column/two-row table grid. Inside each cell is another table: one for each member of the group. Inside that individual table is another two-column/two-row table with an image link to each member's project page. We also made sure that we included links to the other group members' individual project page from our project page. In this way, we are creating a mini website using NYU as the server for all of our linking needs.

For my contribution to the project, I researched Hawaiian culture. It allowed me to be reminded of my childhood. Some of the details I found were new for me, and I was inspired to do more reading about hula and mele. I look forward to a smooth presentation tomorrow night in class. We will be presenting our project as if it were an assignment we were given in a class or at a workshop. We are hoping to have a video of our virtual teacher giving us this assignment on researching culture and the arts. If that doesn't happen for some reason, I will probably act as the teacher and tell the students the parameters of the project. Then flash forward, and each of our group members will navigate through and talk about their research and webpage design. At the end of that, we will conclude with reflecting on our group process. Learning about an aspect of our own background, sharing that with the group, and gaining knowledge about the other group members' processes and ideas has been great. Everyone is doing their part to incorporate the technology lessons of our course into the final project.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Learning Teaching/Teaching Learning

What kind of teacher do I want to be?

Today I posed a question to my Tech Resources professor, "How do you teach an overview class to primarily beginner-level students term after term?" I am beginning to realize that my Dance Education degree is about more than each individual course on its own:
  1. Each course is essential to my degree.
  2. Each course encompasses subject matter that is essential to my field.
  3. Each course will be taught by a professor whose teaching style I can observe.
This third point is equally as important as the course content, or maybe more so. Over the past three weeks I have been observing teaching style, class organization, availability of teacher, patience with questions, presentation of course material, and assignment progression. I suppose at some point it comes down to teacher expectation. You expect that students will understand, gain more knowledge, and stretch their abilities. I have witnessed novice computer users whose technology experience consisted of word-processing and Internet surfing prior to taking this class emerge with projects including: writing html code, altering photos, working with sound and movie editing, posting blogs, and creating group projects that employ all of the afore-mentioned skills. The class is geared toward allowing students to accomplish all of this while keeping their specific educational field in mind. For me, the terminology was not foreign, but I did not have prior experience with most of the programs I have been introduced to in this course, nor had I considered including technology in my classroom.

I am excited to continue to learn to be a teacher and to use technology in my future classroom setting, as well as in performance. This will be one tool that will assist me in creating a dynamic learning environment. What an amazing collaboration is dawning in my life. The links are infinite.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Reflection on Tech Course

During my technology course we have learned some basic html and started a website for our class projects. Those projects have included: altering images with filters in Photoshop, uploading an audio file, working to edit sound with Audacity, creating animated gifs, blogging, a PowerPoint presentation, and using the web as our library research tool. We are soon to enter the world of movies, sound collage, and group presentations. If you told me before the course started how many projects I would accomplish, I would have laughed and said that it would be impossible. Yet somehow we are all doing the work of a 15-session/15-week course over the span of an 11-session/3-week time period. It is fast-paced, exciting, and a lot of work. The payoff is that we are being exposed to a multitude of technological resources and putting into practice some basic computer skills.

You can tell someone all about technology. You can feed them all kinds of terminology and describe processes, but unless you actually sit down and do it yourself, it will only have a surface meaning. I have found that this Tech Resources class is a model for the methods it is teaching. I'm learning about technology in a variety of ways, but I'm also learning about teaching techniques. I'm learning how I might teach a course with technology as one of the tools; the subject matter also happens to be technology, but the method could apply to any subject area. I realize that every class I take for my Dance Education degree is twofold: the subject matter and the teaching style. Learning by example to in turn be a good model for my students.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Still Photo Animation

I was recently looking at a popular blog, called Boing Boing, which referred me to a great movie uploaded onto You Tube entitled, "Between You and Me," by Patryk Rebisz. This film is made up of digital stills taken in burst mode on the camera. In other words, instead of a video camera, a still camera was used so that it becomes a photo animation, an incredibly smooth one at that. I was blown away by it because the storyline is so intriguing that you forget it's not a traditional movie. I highly recommend checking it out.

In technology class we are in the midst of editing a movie utilizing the "Ken Burns Effect" in iMovieHD. I am an amateur movie maker and have put together some home movie footage into an edited form. I have used iMovie and am learning some of the new features in iMovieHD, but I really want to become comfortable using Final Cut Express. I just need to add an extra chunk of time onto each day, and then I could accomplish that goal. Perhaps I need to allow time for editing practice and give myself a deadline to get a small project completed. (Or maybe give up sleeping?)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Group Product, Group Process

As we began our first discussion about what our final project for the technology course should be, we all just looked around hoping the others would come up with an idea. In a summer 3-week course, where the final week includes a group project on top of four other individual projects, you have to be efficient. We would not have the time to implement something outside of class. Instead, we could create a hypothetical situation, or act as if we were taking the course/workshop we were proposing. In a sense, we would become the test-case for a unit that involved researching a part of our heritage and examining culture, arts, and other facts. By doing this we are not losing our individual identities (although I hadn't really considered that would be an issue) and we could come together to share with the group and draw conclusions. We are each designing a section of a website that illustrates our findings, and I volunteered to set up the homepage for our project site. I am very happy with my group members. It has been smooth sailing so far working together, and I expect that to continue. Process or product? Process!

Friday, July 07, 2006

How Far is Too Far?

Are we experiencing our lives, or are we recording it on CDs, DVDs, and digital cameras to look at later? When is it time to stop looking through a lens and just be in the now? Because, ultimately, we only have the now. When we look at it later, it can serve as a memory of the experience, but it doesn't replace the experience itself. Some recording may seem necessary to document: a trip, an event, or a milestone occasion. But what is the use of endless hours of video tapes and boxes or computer files full of photos? There must be a balance to achieve in there somewhere, I just have to find it.

Don't get me wrong, I love technology. I enjoy using electronic gadgets for calls, organization, music, photos, video, and surfing the web. I wonder if at some time in the future we will be able to look back at this time and see how far we have come. Already I have seen records, 8-tracks, and cassette tapes all but fade away. Generations of computers and other electronics have progressed in format and capability in such a short time. I don't know how we would be able to live in today's world without cell phones, cordless phones, and email. There is a vastness with technology that can swallow you up, or you can realize which tools are most valuable or necessary in your life, and choose those specifically.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Technology in My Classroom

During the current course I am taking entitled "Technology Resources for Performing Arts Educators," I have been introduced to a multitude of computer software uses, tech terms, and ideas about the application of various web-related resources. As a Dance Education student, my interest is piqued, and I have been contemplating what my future lesson plans and classroom might include in the way of technology. I love the idea of creating a radio station or podcasts. The students could record dance reviews, interviews discussing the creative process in making dances, and rehearsals. In the upper grades, if group projects were recorded, they could then be shared with the other groups and we could examine how each group worked together.

I would definitely load my iPod with music to be able to play through the sound system. I could use the iTunes Store to purchase current music. Video would be a fantastic tool for learning and documenting dances. The students could keep a video diary that would record their progress throughout the course. I could use and teach about Isadora and have students help to form technology driven works of dance. They could do research on the Web to discover different dancers and choreographers to write a history or biography paper. There could be a class blog in which students contribute entries on class activities or reflections on the process. Students could choreograph to a certain piece of music. After showing it, they could be given an edited version of the music and then they would have to edit their dances to correlate with the musical edits. This kind of tool makes us move things around in a chance order that we may not have considered before.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

nicholasleichterdance 10th anniversary concert, attended 6/30/06

Over the weekend of June 29th through July 1st, 2006, Nicholas Leichter presented four works at Dance New Amsterdam's new location near City Hall. It's been a long time since I've seen Leichter's work, so I was really looking forward to this concert. It was enjoyable and I'm glad I went, but it didn't totally wow me. Overall the weakest part of the show was the lighting. So much of it was underlit that you couldn't see the action. It was difficult to see faces in too many instances. I understand the need to create a mood or an atmospheric setting for the dance, but there was an overuse of gobo patterns on the floor for my taste. The dancers have rehearsed many hours, and their faces and bodies deserve to be seen by the audience. The other distraction was that a photographer sat front and center in the blocked off front row snapping pictures during most of the performance.

The first piece was danced by the entire company: Lauren Basco, Daniel Clifton, Aaron Draper, Jared Kaplan, Nicholas Leichter, Dawn Robinson, and Naima Bigby Sullivan. The men wore tuxedo pants and long-sleeved dress shirts in shades of orange, maroon, red, and purple, while the women matched in silk culottes and draping tops. The dancers were a little unsteady at the start, which worried me that the whole concert would not be up to par. The movement was safe with pleasing lines. There was a motif of pulling someone's extended leg. This recurring move involved launching one dancer to a horizontal position by cantilevering a foot at the hip and holding one hand, while another dancer catches the extending feet. There was a lot of partnering, but nothing memorable. "Discretion (Primo Vere)" was a calm start to the program.

Leichter's solo, "Animal," from 1997, began with awkward posture entering profile from upstage right. He morphed from character to character, or was it just multiple personas trapped in one man? There was a lot of facial mugging and contortions confronting the audience downstage center. He would alternate slow movements with bursts of street jamming and fashion runway posturing. Perhaps it was almost Darwinian in purpose, although it showed that man has not progressed as far as we had thought.

"Undertow" was by far the highlight of the evening. It was a quartet for four women danced by four men. Clad all in black, they wore stretchy lycra long skirts with slits up the back and nylon windbreakers. After the movement had been established, they faced each other in pairs and unzipped the jackets to reveal stockings that had been cut into shirts. The visual imagery throughout was fantastic, and the strength of the dancing was brilliant. At one point where the dancers were in a heap on the floor on top of one another, just hearing their breathing was mesmerizing. The dance included incredibly inventive floor work. It was fast-paced, physical, and completely engaging. I didn't want to blink for fear of missing something extremely cool.

New York premiere "Sweetwash Special" may have been better on the first night when the music was performed live. They opened up the space on stage left so that there was an extra half-stage's worth of performance area where the wings had been. It was difficult to see anything on that side, so it was hard to care about the dancing in that quadrant. Most of the movement seemed to come from contact improvisation sessions, and it was not very compelling. It may have been better received if some of the other pieces of the night had had different movement origins. The movement also took on a pedestrian nature, including physical manipulation by dancers of themselves and their fellow dancers. Street, funk, and hip hop movements were intertwined in the work and incorporated in the modern dance framework. The best movement motif was a trio of two women and a man, where the man took turns partnering with the women. Whichever woman was solo at that moment, took on the movement of either one of the others from the duet. It proved to be the most interesting section of the piece and was appropriately repeated as the final movement image.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

How to Watch a Dance/Technology Performance

As a company member of Troika Ranch, I have had experience with technology from a performer's point of view. The ground rule is that in the "battle" between technology and dancers--humans win. Don't stop dancing if the technology fails in some way. We spent a lot of time developing ideas, movement vocabulary, and technology elements. Everything worked together to create an atmosphere, tell a story, or convey a mood. In the end, a performance would fuse technology with dance in a seamless manner, although it was often a complex number of elements that came together to make the piece.

When I went to my first Troika Ranch performance as an audience member, I knew that the dancers were manipulating elements such as video and sound live during the show. It's easy to get caught up in asking yourself, "How are they doing that?" I realized in a matter of moments that the best tactic was to sit back, relax, and take it all in. Analyzing can come later. So this led me to some rules about how an audience member should view a dance performance, specifically one that utilizes technology.
  1. Read the program notes before and/or after the show.
  2. Read about the technology before and/or after the show.
  3. Save analyzing for after the show. Ask questions and talk to the performers and the creators.
  4. Let the performance wash over you, just absorb what is being shown. Allow yourself to have emotional and visceral responses to what you see.
  5. See the work again.
  6. Learn about technology available to artists.
Just as when you attend a music performance you don't get immediately involved in thinking about the amplifiers and busy yourself with how the instruments make a certain sound, the same should be true in the dance audience. Just as when you go to a museum, you look, appreciate, and react to what you see. You don't start out by analyzing brush strokes, media, composition--you just allow yourself to witness what is before you, and then you can analyze it later if you want.

You can educate yourself before and/or after a dance/technology performance, but it's not as important to know the technology and technique, as it is to experience the work at hand. I encourage audiences to see the same works of dance multiple times to become more familiar with the work and be able to see details and connections you may have missed the first time. In music it is acceptable and desired to see groups or hear songs multiple times. In visual art it is acceptable to view the same work multiple times. Why do dance audiences seem to demand something new at every performance? "I saw that dance already." Is it no good anymore? "I've already heard Beethoven." "I already saw Monet's "Waterlilies."

Monday, July 03, 2006

Troika Ranch Technology-infused Work

Troika Ranch is at the forefront in the field of technology and dance. When I first encountered Troika in 1996, they were performing "The Electronic Disturbance" at The Kitchen in NYC simultaneously with people in California. I didn't realize the treasure I had discovered in the form of light bulbs, suspended-in-PVC-frame monitors playing video, and the like. I didn't know what to make of it at first, but I knew I liked it.

I joined the company in 1998 when they were perfecting the MidiDancer technology developed by one of the artistic co-directors, Mark Coniglio. He had designed this system of bendable sensors placed strategically at the joints of the dancer's body connected to a battery pack that the dancer would wear. The signal could then be transmitted to the receiver at the computer. Using the software Coniglio developed called Isadora, configurations could be made to allow the performer to control sound, video, or lighting by the bend of an elbow or knee. Velocity of movement could also be used to control how the effect was realized. In "The Chemical Wedding," there was a section where laser pointers were placed in the wings directly across from a sensor so that as the dancer made her way through space breaking the beams of light, she would control the soundscape as well as stage lighting that would flash on and slowly decrease in intensity. This allowed the dancer to improvise the timing of the choreography during performance to create an organic experience. In another work, "Boxes," two dancers used inclined boxes with sensors on the step to add a rhythmic soundscore and control video images.

Another unique application of technology involves live video capture and playback within the piece. The dancers have to be so sure of the choreography and comfortable both with the other dancers and with the technological elements, that in performance they can freely respond to their input and the output they are generating. The latest advance in Troika's technology use is trading in the MidiDancer sensors for a video capture system. The dancer is filmed live, a computer program analyzes the limbs, and then effects can be generated from that data. When more than one dancer is on stage, the program analyzes the entire view of the camera as if it were one body, making for interesting results. I look forward to learning more about how to use this technology myself at Troika Ranch's Live-I Workshop this summer.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Technology has changed the face of dance.

In the olden days, you would go to a dance studio that you read about in the paper, on a flier, or heard about from a friend. Registering at a dance studio involved a physical address card that sat in a box or file somewhere. You could buy a single class, or buy a class card for multiple classes that gave you a discount on the individual classes if used within a specific duration of time. You would bring the card with you, and the attendant would date stamp it and write your name on the list of the class you wanted to take on that day. No more. At New York studios like Steps or Dance New Amsterdam, when you register, your personal information is entered into their database. You are then issued a card with a bar code or magnetic strip. Your data is kept in a computer file, and in some cases you can add money to your card over the Internet with your credit card. When you arrive for class, you swipe your card, it deducts the class fee, and the attendant clicks on the class you want to take, directly into the computer. Zap--you're done.

In the olden days, you received postcards or read about performances in the paper. Although these archaic methods continue today, you can also subscribe to various email lists that send you information on upcoming performances you might be interested in attending. I often find that that works best for me because it's one less piece of paper. (Says she, who is writing this draft in a paper notebook with an ink pen on the subway home.) Then I can add it directly to my electronic calendar, and I'm ready to go.

In the olden days, dance teachers would travel to and from class with huge, heavy bags of records. These large discs were played as accompaniment to the class exercises and combinations. You would have to know exactly what song you wanted to use and be able to find it. If you wanted to start at a particular spot in a song, you would have to try to put the needle on it by trial and error. We did progress to cassette tapes, and then came the amazing technological revolution of the compact disc. Now you can load all your MP3 files onto your iPod, and, with a special adapter, you can plug into a sound system and play your music easily. Oh, and it's not quite as heavy as all that vinyl!

Performance reviews can now be accessed quickly by such services as flash reviews. You don't have to wait a week or two for it to appear in the Times. Posting previews on the Internet before a performance takes place is also a great service for artists to let audiences get inspired to see a show.

The Internet is an increasingly useful place to search for all kinds of information about dance, from supplies to studios to venues. It serves as a way to educate you about the possibilities that technology offers, and to gain specific knowledge about the dance community. It may be foreign to some, but technology has allowed us to be spontaneous, as well as to automate tasks that used to require excessive paperwork.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dance and...

I officially start the Dance Education master's program in September, and one of the things that I am interested in exploring is how to pair dance teaching with other subject areas in the K-12 setting. I can imagine how things like theme and variation, patterns, and rhythm could parallel lessons in math. If students are learning about particular cultures in history, I can imagine a unit on African, Spanish, or Japanese dance. The elements of science could also be translated into a dance setting. This kind of crossover in subject areas can only serve to help students acquire knowledge in a variety of ways. The repetition of subject matter in any field is an enhancement to every student's individual journey. I often learned about other subjects through a dance lens because I am a visual learner. Movement is innate, and even if you are not a dancer, you can benefit by learning through the medium of dance. I can't wait to get started in the fall. Bring it on!